Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Can Jeremy Clarkson save Amazon's online video service?

Jeremy Clarkson , Richard Hammond and James May in the first episode of their new Amazon Prime TV show The Grand Tour. Photo / Supplied
Jeremy Clarkson , Richard Hammond and James May in the first episode of their new Amazon Prime TV show The Grand Tour. Photo / Supplied

Two years ago, in this very paper, some rube wrote; "As long as Top Gear is number one the dude can pretty much get away with whatever he wants. All this suspension demonstrates is exactly how invaluable and irreplaceable he actually is."

Almost immediately after I filed that column the BBC escalated its position. The suspension became a straight up firing. The dude had not gotten away with it...

Jeremy Clarkson, outspoken and boorish and usually clad in double denim, was outski. Kaput. Finished.

As for me? Well, I was alright. My call had been woefully wrong yes, but, ya know, everyone occasionally stuffs up on the job, right?

Strange as it sounds I also found some solace to in being so splutteringly and totally incorrect. At least I could never be accused of half-assing these things.

As for Clarkson? Well, he was better than alright. His unemployment lasting less time than my standard work day. Not only that, his new employers gave him both complete creative control and wads more money than the wads he was getting at the Beeb.

Having the lousy anger and control issues that would lead to him socking some poor sap right in the smacker really was the best thing that could have ever happened to him.

So he left rainy Blighty and moved to sunny America. He was the first high profile signing to join Amazon, the behemoth online shopping site who, after destroying book shops, general retail and shopping malls had now decided it wanted to get in on the online streaming biz that was destroying television stations.

Clarkson would be the sparkly jewel in the crown, used to lure viewers to Amazon Prime Video (APV). For many countries it seemed to work. His new show The Grand Tour was pulling in big numbers - although Amazon wouldn't disclose them.

There's no reason to doubt them. It was the number one show when APV launched in the US, UK, Germany and Austria last year. And, just before Christmas, it launched in a 195 more countries. Including here.

I have no idea how successful it's fared. Amazon's presence isn't as keenly felt in Aotearoa. Extended delivery wait times and the high shipping charges involved in getting stuff to the bottom of the world often eats up any savings you'd otherwise get from shopping online.

I've bought a couple of things from Amazon in the past but don't bother these days. But my account still worked which made signing up to APV easy as. I signed in. Clicked 'Start Free Trial' and was done. Simples.

The free period is only a measly seven days, which feels extremely tight for one of the world's biggest retailers and when compared to the generous 30 days offered by Lightbox and Neon.

However Amazon does discount the first six months of subscription, making the monthly payment less than a cup of coffee.

Judged against a single cup of ground beans, some hot water and a splash of milk it does represent pretty good value. There's a decent amount of decent stuff to watch. Which kinda sums it up; decent not outstanding.

It's weird that Woody Allen's telly series Crisis in Six Scenes is labelled as 'coming soon' considering its been online in the States for yonks. But it's great that the filthy and funny Fleabag is watchable now.

While I haven't got to it yet the WW2 'what-if' drama The Man in the High Castle has serious buzz.

Amazon is definitely coming out punching here, but Netflix remains the undisputed champ of original content.

Similarly, APV's movie offering while a bit light, is alright. As long as you don't want to watch anything made anytime recently.

For what I'll laughably dub "newer stuff" the cut off seems to be around 2012. And while there's some decent classics like The Godfather, Top Gun and Scarface, two of those are on Netflix. This double up also occurs with telly shows like Seinfeld and Transparent which are both on Lightbox.

But what of ol' Clarkson? All that money and creative control has resulted in a show that's near enough exactly the same as the one he was forced to leave.

There's glitzy car-porn masquerading as reviews, some very fast driving around a race track, kerr-razy vehicle based stunts and dad jokes a-plenty.

The Grand Tour tweaks and changes the Top Gear formula just enough so as to not get sued into oblivion, but Clarkson has not seized the opportunity to reinvent the racing wheel here.

In that previous column I called Clarkson and his cohorts Richard Hammond and James May, "a legit global phenomenon. Wildly popular wherever there are men with a television and a car."

I'm pretty sure I got that bit right at least. But Amazon are absolutely counting on it.

- NZ Herald

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